Presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #5 Bahá'í National Center: Wilmette, Illinois, USA March 31 – April 2, 1995 (see list of papers from #5)
Near the beginning of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh issues this warning:
Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power. To this beareth witness that which the Pen of Revelation hath revealed Meditate upon this, 0 men of insight! (K5)
Yet, often the Aqdas has been regarded by Bahá'ís as precisely a fixed and static code of divine law, rather like an updated version of the Islamic sharí'ah. This paper will argue for a different interpretation.
It is suggested by internal evidence and the little that is known of the book's history that the Kitab-i-Aqdas consists of an initial Tablet of laws revealed by Bahá'u'lláh, which was supplemented with verses in answer to questions put to Bahá'u'lláh by the believers over a period of three or four years. The final verse of the book may have been added as late as 1882. After the text of the Most Holy Book was completed, Bahá'í law continued to be supplemented by the revelation of the Questions and Answers, by Tablets of law revealed after the Aqdas (some portions of which were explicitly made part of the book), by the interpretations of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi and by the legislation of the Universal House of justice. Throughout this period, the body of Bahá'í law has continued to grow and develop in an organic manner.
This paper will trace the early development (and astonishing transformation) or three basic Bahá'í laws: 1) the law of marriage which initially allowed a man to marry two wives, but through the interpretations of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi came to require monogamy, 2) the obligatory prayer which was changed from an initial prayer requiring nine prostrations to a choice of three prayers of different lengths: and, 3) the law of inheritance which seems to have moved from a modified Muslim system of fixed categories of inheritance to a system of individual bequest through a personal will The paper will argue that it is a mistake to regard the Kitáb-i-Aqdas as the revelation of a new sharí'ah, a fixed and static system of divine law. Rather, the laws of the Aqdas provide a flexible foundation for a New World Order.